By Grant Edrington – Updated June 5, 2023
If you have bad credit, finding a place to rent can be a daunting task. Many landlords and property managers use credit scores as a way to evaluate potential tenants, making it difficult for renters to secure a lease with a less-than-perfect credit history. However, don’t give up just yet. There are several steps you can take to improve your chances of finding a suitable rental property, even if you have bad credit. In this article, we’ll provide you with some tips and strategies on how to rent a home – and possibly boost your credit score. Here are some of the tips and topics we’ll cover:
- What Is the Lowest Credit Score to Rent a House?
- Options for Renting a Home With Bad Credit
What Is the Lowest Credit Score to Rent a House?
When it comes to renting a house or apartment, credit bureau service Experian notes that 600 is the minimum credit score that will look good to a property manager. However, what constitutes a good credit score varies from landlord to landlord. While a universally good credit score typically hovers around 700 or higher, exceptional scores can go up to 850.
If your credit score falls below these ranges due to life events, don’t panic. It’s still possible to find a rental property when you have a poor credit score, but you may need to take extra steps to prove your financial stability, such as having someone cosign or putting down a higher security deposit.1
Interested in purchasing a home? Read some tips on how to buy a house when you have bad credit.
Options for Renting a Home With Bad Credit
When you have bad credit, renting a home can seem like a difficult task. However, there are several options you can explore to increase your chances of getting approved for a rental property.
First, remember that credit scores are not the only factor that landlords consider when evaluating rental applicants. They may also look at your income, employment history, rental history, and other factors. While scouting for a rental home when you have bad credit may require extra effort, it’s still possible to find a suitable rental property. In turn, this new opportunity allows you to help build a good rental history that can not only improve your chances of securing future rental properties but can also help with your longer-term homeownership goals.2, 3, 4
Here are some strategies you can use to rent a home when you have bad credit:
Check Your Credit Report for Errors
To avoid any potential credit issues, it’s important to proactively check your credit reports from the three nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
You can obtain one free copy of your credit report annually from each bureau by requesting it directly or by visiting reputable sites that can provide you with your free credit report.
When evaluating your reports, look for any errors or inaccuracies and contact the relevant bureau to dispute them if necessary. If there are no errors, carefully review your reports to identify any factors that may be contributing to your low credit score, such as missed payments during a previous hardship or outstanding debts that are either currently in collections or where you may have settled with a creditor. 2, 3, 4 Understanding the reasons behind your low credit score can help you take steps to improve it.
Find a Landlord Who Will Rent Without a Credit Check
Typically, landlords will check your credit when you apply to rent a home or apartment. However, if you’re looking to rent in a smaller town or suburban area with less demand, landlords may be more lenient. However, they’ll still want to make sure you can pay rent on time.
To help convince your potential landlord of your viability as a tenant in good standing, you can show proof of your income, rental history, and references from previous landlords or employers. Just make sure to watch out for sketchy landlords who don’t ask for much information, as this could be a red flag for a rental scam. 2, 3, 4
For instance, look at the duration of time a property has been on the market, any application fees, and (if possible) how many applicants have responded without a landlord choosing a tenant. If you see a property that has been on the market for more than one month, and multiple applicants have paid an application fee – and the amount a landlord has collected from applications far exceeds the monthly rental price listed – these may be warning signs of a scam. Prospective renters beware! Always do your research before responding to any rental listings.
Prove Your Financial Responsibility
When you have a low credit score, landlords may question your ability to pay rent on time. To prove your financial responsibility, you can show a high income and/or savings relative to the monthly rent payment. 2, 3, 4
For example, if the rent for your ideal apartment is $1,200 per month, you should aim to make at least 40 times that amount, or $48,000 per year. While this income and income ratio won’t necessarily guarantee your approval, it may help your case and increase your odds. You can show proof of income to your prospective landlord via pay stubs or with an offer letter.
You should also have at least three months’ worth of rent payments, or $3,600, in your savings account and be prepared to show bank statements or account balances. Having a credit line available on a credit card can also provide extra security, but only if you have low balances and a solid savings account.
Prove Your Responsibility as a Renter
Proving your reliability as a renter is important in securing a new apartment or rental home. Ask for a reference from a previous landlord, whether it was a large property management company or an individual landlord. Having a positive reference can help showcase your rental history to potential new landlords.
When asking for a reference, request that your previous landlord highlight:
- Your payment history
- How well you took care of the rental unit
- How you followed the rental agreement
- How you worked with the property management
- Positive interactions with fellow tenants and neighbors
A positive recommendation from a previous landlord can carry significant weight and demonstrate that you are a responsible and trustworthy tenant, which can be just as important as a good credit score. 2, 3, 4
Get a Cosigner or Roommate
If you’re struggling to rent a home with bad credit, one option is to find a cosigner, such as a trusted friend or family member, who agrees to pay rent if you’re unable. Having a co-signer can boost your viability as a prospective tenant in the eyes of a potential landlord. However, it’s important to make sure that your cosigner understands the terms of your lease and agrees to the arrangement.
Another option is to add a roommate, who can not only help cover the monthly rent but also bring a higher credit score to the application process. If the property manager is willing to accept just one person on the lease, having a roommate with a higher credit score can help lessen the impact of bad credit. 2, 3, 4
Offer to Pay Extra in Advance
Offering to pay a larger security deposit or a few months’ rent in advance can show potential landlords that you are a less risky tenant. By making a larger financial commitment upfront, you provide the landlord with a significant amount of money as security. Setting up direct rent payments through your bank can also provide a sense of security for the landlord.
Additionally, you could offer to pay a slightly higher monthly rent amount, if you can afford it, as an alternative to a larger deposit or advance rent payments. These options can help build trust and demonstrate your commitment to being a responsible tenant, even with bad credit. 2, 3, 4
Explain Your Poor Credit History
If you have a poor credit history due to extenuating circumstances, such as medical bills or a job loss, it may be worth explaining your situation to the landlord. This can help the landlord understand why your credit score was impacted and that your financial situation has since improved. By providing a clear explanation of your situation and the steps you’ve taken to address it, you may be able to convince the landlord to give you a chance.
When explaining your situation to the landlord, be honest and transparent about what happened and how you’ve resolved the issue. It’s essential to show that you take responsibility for your present financial situation and have taken proactive steps to rectify it. You can also provide documentation, such as proof of payment plans or letters from creditors, to support your explanation.
While there’s no guarantee that the landlord will overlook your poor credit history, explaining your situation can at least show that you’re serious about being a responsible tenant and may help you build a rapport with the landlord. 2, 3, 4
Improve Your Credit
If you don’t have any credit history, it can be challenging to prove your creditworthiness to potential landlords. However, there are various ways to establish good credit quickly.
One option is to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account (such as a parent, guardian, or spouse), which can appear on your credit report within 30 days. Another way is to have your rent payments reported to the credit bureaus, which can be done through rent reporting services or by asking your landlord if they report your payments.5
To strengthen your credit further, consider the following tips:
- Use credit cards responsibly, pay them on time, and even pay them off
- Use secured credit cards, which require a deposit as collateral, to build a credit history until you qualify for a traditional credit card.
- Watch your credit utilization, which should be kept below 30%.
- Use credit-boosting services, such as Experian Boost, which allow you to factor timely payments such as your internet or phone bill into your credit score.
Strengthening your credit score can help you avoid future barriers when renting a home, so it’s worth the effort even if you’re able to secure an apartment with low or no credit.2 Additionally, a higher credit score can help you in the long run, setting you up for not just a smoother path to mortgage approval, but better mortgage rates among other financial opportunities.
Your Rent Could Go Toward a Down Payment With Divvy
Divvy can be a great option for people with poor credit who dream of homeownership. With Divvy, you can put a portion of your monthly payment towards your homeownership goals, like the eventual down payment on a home of your own. In addition to offering free credit counseling through our partners, we also provide you the option to report rent payments to the three major credit bureaus, helping renters establish or improve their credit scores.
To qualify with Divvy, one of our requirements is that you have a minimum FICO score of 550, which is lower than the credit score requirements for many traditional home loans. With Divvy’s rent-to-own program, renters pay a monthly amount on a Divvy-ready or Divvy-approved home of their choosing. A portion of your monthly payment can accrue into what can become a down payment on your home if you choose to purchase it. This allows Divvy residents to build their savings while they rent, rather than just paying for housing without the benefit of the option to save.
Interested in learning more about Divvy Homes? Find out how it works and how you can rent-to-own with bad credit. If you’re on the fence about whether to rent or buy, here are some pros and cons of each to reference.
1. Experian, Do You Need a Credit Score to Rent a House or Apartment? (https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/do-you-need-a-credit-score-to-rent-a-house-or-apartment/)
2. U.S. News, Can You Get an Apartment Without a Credit Check? (https://money.usnews.com/credit-cards/articles/can-you-get-an-apartment-without-a-credit-check)
3. Equifax, Renting a Home with Fair to Bad Credit Scores (https://www.equifax.com/personal/education/life-stages/renting-home-bad-no-credit/)
4. Credit Karma, How to Rent an Apartment with No or Poor Credit (https://www.creditkarma.com/advice/i/rent-apartment-with-no-or-poor-credit)
5. NerdWallet, How to Report Your Rent to Credit Bureaus (https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/rent-reporting-services)
Grant is a member of the marketing team and focuses on connecting aspiring homeowners in our metros with Divvy. He's worked on marketing teams spanning all parts of the homeownership journey, including home loans, power tools and home improvement, siding and flooring, and now Divvy. Grant graduated from Villanova University and became a homeowner in 2021.